German M16

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General Information: The German Model 1916 is widely considered to be the best helmet of the First World War in terms of its ability to protect the soldiers from head wounds. The one-piece construction provided a degree of structural integrity lacking in the four-piece French Model 1915 and the chromium-nickel steel composition was a strong barrier against bullets and shrapnel. The skirt section gave the wearer good protection from the sides and back and the protruding visor afforded additional protection from ordnance exploding above trenches. The main defect was that it inhibited hearing – a defect that was addressed in a late-war version of the helmet with ear cut-outs.

The M16 was developed by Fredrich Schwerd, who was a professor at the Technical Institute in Hanover and a captain the Landwehr,[1] following a visit to a military hospital in the summer of 1915. At that time Schwerd had set up an experimental electromagnetic device in an operating room to pull metal splinters from the brains of injured soldiers. As part of his initiative with this surgical aid, Schwerd corresponded with Professor Doctor August Bier, the Naval Doctor General who was serving as a consulting surgeon with the XVIII Army Corps. Schwerd told Bier that it was his conviction that the type of head wounds that they were seeing in military hospitals could be minimized by the use of a protective steel helmet or “stahlhelm.” Dr. Bier was persuaded and advocated for the concept of a steel helmet with medical authorities. The concept was approved and Schwerd lead a design process that eventually resulted in the development of the M16. [2]

At the end of 1915, following a series of trials, the Prussian War Ministry ordered 30,000 helmets to be produced by the Eisenhuttenwerk at Thale and issued by the end of January 1916 for field trial. Apparently the first helmets from this procurement reached the field in December of 1915. Following this trial period, the M16 was approved for general use in February 1916. The soldiers serving in Verdun and the Somme, where the Allies had launched offensives, were given priority for the receipt of early production helmets. By war’s end the Germans had produced 7.5 million helmets.[3]

The M16 had a leather liner made of three separate pads each with two tongues that contained perforations for a drawstring. The leather pads were sewn into a leather band that attached to the steel shell by means of three split pins. The chinstraps were the 1891 model which was the same type used on enlisted man’s spiked helmets (“pickelhauben”). Protruding Frankenstein-like side lugs served a dual purpose. They provided ventilation and also supported an armored brow plate, or “stirnpanzer” that was used by soldiers in stationary, hazardous positions like sentries and snipers, to give extra protection. The helmets were produced in sizes ranging from 60cm to 68cm, with the most common size being 64. The helmet sizes along with a manufacturer code, usually one or two letters, were stamped on the interior skirt on the wearer’s left side.

Displayed Example: I purchased this helmet a few years ago from Giorgio Spadero who runs Italian War Front. He is a reputable and knowledgeable dealer who has a talent for finding helmets out of the woodwork. The thing that drew me to the piece was the perfectly intact chinstrap and liner complete with original drawstring. It is very difficult to find original German WWI helmets that are entirely complete and in very good condition. The chinstrap has brass hardware which was typical for the early German First World War helmets. Later production helmets tended to have steel or zinc-like hardware. The manufacturer code is Si, which corresponds to the Sachische Emailles u. Paruschowitz company. It is a size 66. This example has the classic camouflage scheme of red, green and ochre separated by finger width black lines. This camouflage configuration was mandated by a German army order dating from July 1918. The original owner scratched his name on the interior of the shell in elegant, but now not fully legible, old-style script.

Collector Notes: With 7.5 million of these helmets made, there are still a large number circulating and they are not hard to find. They are not even very expensive depending on how particular you are about condition, completeness and originality. Recently a large cache of Finnish-used German helmets including the WWI type, were discovered and can be purchased for relatively modest prices. Because of their great popularity and high prices for better quality pieces, there is every variety of fraud and misrepresentation in German First World War helmets. Fake German WWI camo helmets and components have become a cottage industry in Latvia and elsewhere, particularly Eastern Europe. Buy from reputable dealers, do not buy from people who do not offer refunds, join an online forum and purchase some good reference books.  


* Citation sought

[1] “Landwehr” is sometimes translated a “home guard” in English. This was a large component of the Imperial German army that was made up of older soldiers who had completed military service in the army and the reserves. The Landwehr was intended to serve as a security force and for occupational duties rather than a frontline combat force.

[2] Baer 2001, pp.8-9

[3] Haselgrove 2006, pp 239-240

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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